Why we need timeless principles to be truly effective

Effectiveness is about getting the things that truly matter done. You know what they are for you:

  • That project you keep putting off because it seems too complicated and out of your depth. But if you were to complete it would yield great benefits.
  • That conversation with a key person who could help to move things forward.
  • That important family friend or relative you know you need to get in touch with.
  • That time alone or at the gym to re-charge your batteries and help you focus better.

In contrast to efficiency, effectiveness is based on timeless principles that in the end will bring about the maximum long-term benefits. To really understand effectiveness then we need to first understand what we mean by principles.

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Principles are natural laws or fundamental truths about life and the universe that are:

  • External to yourself
  • Do not change
  • Universal and timeless.
  • Produce predictable outcomes in the long term.
  • Continue to operate with or without your understanding or acceptance of them
  • Self -evident and enabling when understood and applied.

Correct principles are like a compass. They are always pointing the way. If we can learn how to read them, not only will we not get lost, confused or fooled by conflicting voices and values, it is more likely we will move forward in our lives with confidence and true power

As Stephen R. Covey puts it:

“We are not in control; principles control. We control our actions, but the consequences that flow from these actions are controlled by principles.”

Principles are natural laws in the human sphere that are just as real, just as unchanging and arguably present as laws such as gravity is in the physical dimension.

The best example of this is found in the principles that govern the seasons and farming. Think about what a farmer does. He must prepare the ground, plant the seed, give time for it to germinate and grow. All this takes time and requires honouring the seasons by doing what is appropriate in a particular season. You prepare the ground and plant in the spring if you want to harvest in the autumn. How ridiculous it would be if you ignored this principle and instead chose to plant in the summer expecting a harvest in the winter! To do so is to violate the principles that govern the seasons and the growth of plants.

What are some examples of principles? When you hear them they seem obvious, and yet the media abounds with examples of people who do not live by them……


– Honesty: being truthful and fair in our dealings with others.
– Service: looking to put the needs of others ahead of my own and looking to bring good to others.
– Hard work: seeking to be diligent and give of one’s best in every situation.
– Integrity: being the same person in public as you are in private.

It is also important to understand that principles are not the same as values.
Values are internal and subjective and represent what we feel strongest about. Values are what guide our behaviour. The relationship between values and principles is that as we value principles we get the results that we want in a way that enables us to get even greater results in the future – in other words we become more effective.

Principles in the end always catch up with us. To grasp this just imagine living a life based on their opposites. That is a life of dishonesty, laziness, self-indulgence, ingratitude, selfishness and hate. It is possible to get rich and famous with such behaviours, but in terms of character and internal peace and harmony, the person will eventually reach breaking point.  (To explore the apparent exceptions do see Podcast #028 The God I Don’t Understand).

A short account by Walter MacPeek powerfully explains the principle of loyalty and helps understand true effectiveness:

One of two brothers fighting in the same company in France fell by a German bullet. The one who escaped asked  permission of his officer to go and bring his brother in.
He is probably dead,’ said the officer, ‘and there is no use in your risking your life to bring his body.’
But after further pleading the officer consented. Just as the soldier reached the lines with his brother on his shoulders, the wounded man died.
‘There you see,’ said the officer, ‘you risked your life for nothing.’
‘No,’ replied Tom. ‘I did what he expected of me, and I have my reward. When I crept up to him and took him in my arms, he said, ‘Tom I knew you would come – I just felt you would come.’

What questions or comments on principles and effectiveness does this raise for you?

These ideas are taken from the work of the late Stephen R, Covey. For more on his work see Podcast #010

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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